Trafalgar Studios, London – until 18 August 2018
It is safe to say that after watching this brilliantly gripping production of Killer Joe my nerves were effectively torn to shreds thanks to the way in which Simon Evans gradually builds up the tension as well as the deeply engaging performances from all of the cast.
The play begins as Chris (who is in desperate need of money) comes up with a plan to get his hands on his mother’s life insurance money. This plot involves murder and the hiring of police detective and part-time contract killer Killer Joe. But when it turns out that Chris can’t afford to pay him and Joe lays eyes on the innocent Dottie things takes an even darker turn.
What unfolds is a story filled with desperation, poverty, greed and lust set against the background of a trailer park in Texas that becomes increasingly brutal and violent along the way. It is not an easy production to watch and there are several moments that are difficult to watch – not least when Joe seduces the vulnerable Dottie. But the production’s strength is that it ensures that you can’t take your eyes away from what is happening for one second.
From the moody and atmospheric music and sound effects by Edward Lewis to Grace Smart’s fabulously rustic set design, Evans has created a show that highlights the desperation of those with little money as well as the pain and anger that it causes. It is a production that increasingly tightens its grip on the audience and characters (as the twists in the second act reveal) to remain sharply focused throughout.
Everything that occurs throughout seems to stir a sort of uneasiness in the audience that is powerful – highlighted as Sharla’s role in the whole scheme unravels or when Dottie is forced to put a dress on to please Joe. It is the women that go through the hardest moments of the play that is as compelling as it is repulsive to watch.
Killer Joe does offer some brilliantly (and horrifically) believable performances from the cast. Orlando Bloom is a real revelation as Killer Joe – charming, graceful but with a hint of menace as he strives to get what he wants. The casual, cool and detached way in which he demands things from the other characters is surprisingly chilling and brilliantly keeps the audience in suspense of what he is capable of.
Meanwhile, Sophie Cookson is also mesmerising as the vulnerable Dottie who despite what everyone else thinks is surprisingly perceptive and knows exactly what is going on. Cookson is completely immersed in her character from beginning to end, offering an almost surreal performance of a character who is content in her own world. It is a quietly powerful and commanding performance. There is also strong support from Adam Gillen as Chris and Neve McIntosh as Sharla – whose increasing horror of the situation is magnetic to watch. But it feels as though Ansel is a character who has been slightly underwritten, a part that doesn’t offer Steffan Rhodri much to work with – a character happy to spend much of the time on the sidelines.
Killer Joe is definitely not an easy watch but thanks to the solid chemistry and performances from the cast it is a compelling production to watch that leaves the audience feeling on edge. Gripping, thrilling and powerful from beginning to end.